Jesus Christ and the Lostness of Man
Jesus Christ and the Lostness of Man (Urbana 1973)
All the perversity that poisons human society springs from a deeper hate that we disguise and deny. We hate God, and we hate him because he is God: holy, just and good.
An old popular song tells it like it was:
Don’t bank down those inner fires,
Follow out your heart’s desires
Until the day comes when they come for you;
Make today a holiday, take tomorrow, too.
You can’t take it with you, Jack,
And when you’re gone you can’t come back,
You are only going-through!
That’s an old song, well before your time. As a matter of fact it was popular in Egypt before 1300 B.C. My version is a bit of a paraphrase. You can find a more literal translation under “A Song of the Harper” in Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts.1
For more than three millenia men have been drinking to the idea that you only go around once so you had better grab for gusto while you can. But beneath the bravado lurks fear – the fear of death. The “morning after” is bad enough, but what of the night after? Life never escapes that shadow.
From the time of the “Song of the Harper” comes the song of another harper, full of solemn grandeur rather than trivial froth: the song of Moses the man of God, Psalm 90 in the Old Testament. Again we hear of the brevity of human life: “They are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth” (vv. 5-6).
But Moses sets the brevity of man’s life in fearful contrast with God’s eternity: “Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God … a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (vv. 2, 4).
Put against God’s eternity, our living is only slow dying, and not even slow dying at that. Death’s shadow flies upon us and blots out today’s sunlight with tomorrow’s darkness. Life is only a breath, and that breath is a sigh. The Nobel playwright Samuel Beckett takes up Moses’ theme in the briefest, strangest and strongest of his plays, entitled Breath. It is a play without a hero, without actors, without words. The stage is set with a pile of junk. As the light grows we hear a baby’s birth cry, then a long inhalation, followed by a choking exhalation, that ends in a death rattle. Beckett’s bitter hope can offer only another birth cry as the stage sinks into darkness. “We bring our years to an end as a sigh” (v. 9). Our life-breath expires in that sigh.
Men try to come to terms with death. Fortified with arguments for immortality, Socrates drinks the hemlock with philosophic calm. Tasting the yet more bitter cup of vengefulness a modern terrorist sows death that he may reap it.
A popular Freudian philosopher warns that the fear of death is the morbid fruit of repression. Liberate the body from all repressions, he says, and it will be ready to meet death with no life unlived.2 The opposite advice is no less ancient (or modern): Mortify the body as the prison of the soul, and hasten the absorption into the cosmic consciousness. But death’s head is still visible behind the many masks we make. Even a doctor of thanatology must die.
But if death is the last enemy, it does not come as a stranger. The horror of the death we do not know reaches us in the agony of the life we do know:
I am poured out like water,
And all of my bones are out of joint:
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
And thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
The anguish of the sufferer in the psalm intensifies the sigh of frustration to a roar of agony. Man’s misery is quiet despair at best. At worst it is a scream from the depths.
Man the Rebel
Yet all the sufferings of life and the death they foreshadow do not in themselves fill the cup of human misery. The poison in the cup of life is our guilt. Moses mourns, “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance” (Ps. 90:8).
Standing beneath an empty sky, a man can strike a tragic pose as the victim of mortality. He can even pretend to be a hero of the absurd, who gives meaning to life’s meaninglessness by an act of will. Albert Camus pictures Sisyphus (doomed in Tartarus) as heroically human precisely because his labor has no meaning. He toils forever to roll a rock up a hill knowing that it will forever roll down again. “There is no fate,” says Camus “that cannot be overcome by scorn.”
Yet the scorn with which a man shakes his fist at the empty sky shows that the sky is not really empty. Man’s sense of tragedy betrays him. Man is not a victim but a rebel. He stands before God and stands revealed for what he is – a sinner. God’s holiness manifests the enormity of our crimes against our brothers. In his rebellion man can not only sanction but even sanctify his hatreds in tribal or national pride. He can brutalize his women and discard his babies. Hilarion, a traveling businessman of the year 1 B.C., writes a letter to his wife in Egypt: “If by chance you bear a child, if it is a boy, let it be, if it is a girl, cast it out.” 3
It is before the living God that adultery is vile and infanticide murder. The dignity that “humanizes” man is the reflection of his likeness to God – his creation in God’s image. By that image God’s claim is on every man: He cannot be made a chattel or a pawn without defiance to his Maker.
When Jesus was asked whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar he asked to see a Roman silver coin, a denarius. One was produced from a questioner’s fat purse. “Whose is the image and superscription?” asked Jesus. “Caesar’s,” was the reply. Jesus’ retort is a double-edged sword: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:15-22).
We need to ponder the kingdom teaching of this Messiah who authorized Roman taxation. But even more we need to ponder the kingdom claim of the other edge of Christ’s saying. Who bears the image of God? We do. What do we owe to God? Ourselves. God’s image sets God’s seal against all exploitation of our fellow man.
But it does much more than this. It forbids us to rob God by withholding ourselves. When the apostle Paul describes the unrighteousness of men, he begins at the beginning – with their ungodliness. They are without excuse, because “knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
In strange ways God causes even the wrath of men to praise him. Just as man’s tragic sense witnesses to God’s creation, so man’s rage witnesses to God’s righteousness. Try taunting some furious protester with the logic of what he claims to believe. Tell him, “O.K., so there is no God; man is a chemical accident in a random universe. What are a few thousand lives, more or less? What if a bomb suddenly reorganizes the molecules that were for the moment patterned in the form of a little girl. So what? No energy is lost.”
When he calls you a fool or a monster, his rage for righteousness bears witness to the God he denies. We measure right and wrong by an absolute standard. We are blind not to see that the imperative of “rightness” points beyond our own desires or the desires of other men anywhere or everywhere. Only before the living God does morality find meaning. All sin is at last sin against God. The most heinous sin is the root of all other sin: rebellion against God. Because the mind of the flesh is emnity against God, we cannot see our sin as it is.
Paul says that our understanding is darkened in the ignorance of hardened hearts (Eph. 4:18). Violence, licentiousness, greed, envy, murder–all the perversity that poisons human society springs from a deeper hate that we disguise and deny. We hate God, and we hate him because he is God: holy, just and good.
All sin is at last sin against God. The most heinous sin is the root of all other sin: rebellion against God.
It is the measure of our hardening that hating God is made the least of sins, perhaps even a virtue: Promethean courage against an omnipotent tyrant. When God pleads with his rebellious people in the Old Testament, he exhausts the images of broken faith to show how heinous the great sin is. Israel is a vine bearing bitter grapes to the divine vinedresser who has spared no pains in cultivation (Is. 5). God’s people is a rebellious son turning against the father who held him in his arms and taught him to walk (Hos. 11). The nation is an adulterous wife requiting a husband’s faithful love with shameless harlotry.
We may be filled with rage at callous crimes of selfish violence reported in the newspaper, but we cannot comprehend the wickedness of violent rebellion against the living God. Yet our judgment is proportionate to our crime. Moses descends to one last level in his psalm of human misery. The tragedy of life is not only the vanity of our days and the sinfulness of our hearts. There is more, for the sinfulness of our hearts is open to the eyes of God: “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance” (Ps. 90:8). Therefore, we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled” (v. 7) … “all our days are passed away in thy wrath” (v. 9) … “who knoweth the power of thine anger and thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee?” (v. 11).
Moses’ psalm has its setting in the wilderness where a generation of rebels was doomed to wander until they perished. Refusing to believe that God would give them the Land of Promise they heard God’s word of judgment turning them back to the desert. That word echoes in Psalm go: “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men” (v. 3).
Men are not only sinners, they are “children of wrath,” subject to the righteous judgment of God. Death comes as a curse, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans is at pains to trace the course of sin in the world to its source. Where death comes, there sin is being judged. The death-knell tolls through the genealogies of Genesis, the first book of the Bible: “and he died … and he died … and he died.” Those who died were judged as sinners. Before the law had been given to Moses, before its precepts could call sin to account, men were guilty and liable to death.
At what point, then, did sin enter, and death through sin? Evidently in the first sin of the first man, Adam. Through one trespass death ruled over many (Rom. 5:19). Paul, of course, presses on to the parallel in salvation. As one act of sin made men guilty, caused sin to be charged against them – for all men sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12,18) – so one act of righteousness brought justification and life to the new humanity in Christ.
We may need to review the apostle’s reasoning in reverse. As Christians we understand that Christ was our representative who stood in our place as the Head of the new humanity. But we must also recognize the role of the first Adam in relation to the second. The guilt and judgment of Adam’s transgression is shared by those who are united to Adam their head by God’s creative appointment. All die in Adam because all are guilty in Adam. The sinfulness of all humanity is not a survival of the jungle; it is the result of the Fall. Man’s doom stretches back to his initial rebellion and grows with his multiplied iniquity.
Before God’s holiness our ruin is complete. We are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). It is the heart of man that is “deceitful above all things and exceedingly corrupt” (Jer. 17:9). No, man is not as bad as he can be, for God restrains men from the hellish fury of their own corruption. But no part of man escapes the blight of sin. His mind is at enmity with God, “for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be; and they that are in the flesh can- not please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).
And more: man the sinner is in bondage not only to evil but to the Evil One. He is taken captive by the snares of the devil (2 Tim. 2:26) and walks according to the prince of the powers of the air, the evil spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). Men who were made to be sons of God have become children of the devil, doing the works of their father and doomed to share his judgment (Eph. 2:2; Mt. 25:41, 46; Jn. 8:44).
Man’s bondage to evil rolls like a subterranean river of fire through human history. In willful ignorance man fabricates his delusions and destroys himself and his world in the lusts of his idolatries (Eph. 4:18; Rom. 1:28; 6:21, 23). No man can overlook human evil; he may only add to it by condoning as pitiable that which God reveals to be damnable.
The Wrath of God But God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows he will reap. The biblical teaching about the wrath of God is very different from the mechanical wheel of fate in Eastern religions. God cannot be a detached observer in a spiritual world of cause and effect where actions generate their own inevitable consequences. Nor is God merely a name for the process. The living God is personal: a God who reveals himself to his people as slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth (Ex. 34:6). The wrath of God is not soon kindled. God is not “vindictive” in our usual sense of the word. Yet God’s wrath is the zeal of his own holiness against all sin. “Our God,” warns the writer of Hebrews, “is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). Not fate, not the reincarnational process of the wheel of samsara, but the searching knowledge of the living God judges the sinner.
Yet God does employ the fruits of our deeds to judge us. Indeed, he often makes our very sins to become our punishment. As Paul in Romans 1 describes the plunge of the heathen nations into depravity, he shows the justice of God by matching man’s abandonment to sin with God’s abandonment to judgment. Paul’s Greek is more vivid than our translations. Man gave up the glory of the incorruptible God for idols (v. 23); God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness (v. 24). Men gave up the truth of God for a lie (v. 25); God gave them up to vile passions (v. 26). Men gave up the knowledge of God (v. 28), and God gave them up to a reprobate mind (v. 28).
Even man’s abandonment of natural sexual relations is judged by a divine abandonment to the chains of perversion (vv. 26-27). A man is lost as he rejects God for his own desires. His lostness is his doom as God abandons him to those desires. C.S. Lewis once said that heaven is the place where man says to God, “Thy will be done,” and hell is the place where God says to man, “Thy will be done.” That is not the whole truth, but it catches the meaning of God’s judgment as abandonment.
At last, the justice of God’s judgment must be confessed by every sinner. Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit has the much-quoted line, “Hell is other people.”4 He pictures a sitting room in hell into which three strangers, one man and two women, are ushered. They are without eyelids; nothing can be changed or forgotten; and since they are already dead, murder or suicide is impossible. Given that setting, the “Hell is other people” line is easy to understand!
But the climax of the play is in an earlier line. After bitter conversation has stripped away their pretensions, the “hero,” Garcin, is revealed as a coward who had deserted his comrades. Inez, who has savagely torn away Garcin’s lies, says, “You are your life, and nothing else.”5
“You are your life, and nothing else.” No, you cry. I am not what I have been – I am what I am going to be; I am what I meant to be. In the day of judgment, the gaze before which you will stand naked is not the lidless eyes of another sinner, but the burning eyes of Almighty God. There will be no injustice, only truth; you will be revealed for what you are, and nothing else. “Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Rev. 16:7).
When every knee bows to God in the day of judgment, all rebellion is ended. No sinner will dispute God’s sentence. The gnashing of teeth that Scripture describes on the part of those who are forever lost is no longer the gnashing of hatred and defiance, but of anguish and remorse.6 We who still taste the possibilities of earthly life cannot imagine the meaning of existence without hope where the guilt of past rebellion seals the abiding wrath of God.
Michelangelo tried to portray the horror of the lost on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, where the damned sink down behind the altar. Yet neither Christ the judge nor the doomed who peer out from the candle soot of the centuries are convincing figures. Far worse are the grotesque horrors of Hieronymous Bosch. No, the meaning of judgment must be approached from within, not without.
The man who rejects what the Bible teaches about the Last judgment should stand before God instead of presuming to call God to account. Let him ask, before God, “What do my sins deserve?” The deepest agony of hell itself is the realization that eternal separation from God is what the sinner has demanded and deserved.
The solemn argument of Paul in Romans concludes that all men are under God’s wrath because all men deserve it. The nations of the Gentiles are without excuse, for they have forsaken the God they knew. He never left himself without a witness – in the world and in their own hearts. Their very ignorance is of their own making; their false worship of their own devising; and their degrading vices their continuing delight. But when the Gentiles are condemned by self-righteous men who know the law, Paul writes a stronger condemnation. Not the hearers of the law are justified, but the doers. The man who knows the law and disobeys is worse than the man who never knew the law. Paul’s conclusion is the verdict of the psalmist:
There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God…. that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. (Rom. 3:10-11, 19b)
Yes, there are mouths today that chatter on, mouths of men excusing themselves and blaming God, or excusing others to overturn the sentence of God. The only remedy is for the man with the mouth to stand before God. If he beholds the Lord, he will cry with Job, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Yet in describing some of the teaching of the Bible about man’s lostness I have been holding back the context in which we learn these things. To consider lostness, death and doom by themselves, we end up splitting Bible verses in half. “The wages of sin is death”- yes, we must know that in the sin explosion of our times – but how can we stop with “death”? “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 6:23).
The Bible reveals God’s wrath in the proclamation of the gospel. Why does Paul so insist in Romans that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?” (Rom. 3:23). Because he wants us to know that “God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). See the connection between the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel (Rom. 1:17) and the revelation of the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). The wrath of God is not disclosed simply as a timeless principle of retributive righteousness. God’s judgment is proclaimed as part of the news of God’s purpose and work.
You hear this in Paul’s preaching in the book of Acts. The message of judgment calls the nations from walking in their own ways (Acts 14:16), for now God
commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
Even the appointing of a day of judgment shows God’s mercy, for it means that there is time given to the nations to repent. Judgment means hope, for the day of wrath is the day of deliverance from the oppressor. Only by judgment can there be a new order, a new world of righteousness. But when a self-righteous people assumed that the day of the Lord would be all brightness for them, they were warned that they, too, must face the judge of all the earth, who does right (Amos 5:18-20).
How, then, can the preaching of judgment bring hope to sinners? Why need they hear of a new creation delivered from groaning if they have forfeited all inheritance in it? The unimaginable answer of the gospel is that God’s absolute righteousness brings salvation through the outpouring of wrath. God’s good news is Jesus Christ who comes to earth not once but twice. He will come at last to bring wrath, as the judge of all the earth.
The coming of God’s kingdom in consummation power means the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus; who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
But if that were Christ’s only coming, no sinner could be spared. “Who can abide the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire” (Mal. 3:2).
Even John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, had difficulty here. He preached the coming of the Messiah to judgment, the Messiah who would baptize with fire and hew down every tree of wickedness. When Jesus wrought miracles of healing rather than signs of wrath, when he opened the eyes of the blind rather than bringing thick darkness, when he raised the dead rather than slaying the wicked, John sent an inquiry from prison – the prison from which the Messiah had not set him free: “Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?” (Lk. 7:19). Jesus kept John’s two disciples with him while he performed more miracles of hope. “Go,” he said, “and tell John the things which ye have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them” (v. 22).
Jesus’ answer reflects the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-10, a promise of the blessings of renewal in God’s kingdom of salvation. But how could blessing come without judgment? What gospel is there for the poor until their exploiters and oppressors are judged?
Jesus said to John, “Blessed is he whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me” (Lk. 7:23). The answer that John awaited in faith is given to us in the gospel. Jesus came first not to wield the axe of judgment but to bear the stroke of death.
Christ, the judge who must tread the winepress of the wrath of God, Christ himself bears the wrath and drinks the cup from the Father’s hand. By his blood we are saved from wrath through faith in him (Rom. 5:9). Christ was made sin for us, bore the curse for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Only so can God be just and yet be the justifier of him who believes in Christ.
Paul preaches the revealed righteousness of God-righteousness in God’s wrath against sin, righteousness as God’s gift by grace – righteousness in the first and second coming of Christ. Because God’s wrath struck his own Son on Calvary, it is forever past for those who are united to Jesus Christ. The gospel calls men to the cross, where wrath is swallowed up by love, where grace and justice meet.
Is God’s Wrath Too Severe?
Is God’s wrath too severe, his holiness too intense, his judgment too heavy? After World War II a play in West Berlin made a deep impression on the city. It was The Sign of Jonah by Günter Rutenborn. In a courtroom scene all the actors are found guilty in the evils of the war they have survived, and all transfer the blame to God. God is accused, found guilty and sentenced
to become a human being, a wanderer on earth, deprived of his rights, homeless, hungry, thirsty. He shall know what it means to die. He himself shall die! And lose a son, and suffer the agonies of fatherhood. And when at last He dies, He shall be disgraced and ridiculed .7
God’s amazing grace has done more than the most bitter blasphemy could propose. God’s wrath has been poured out on earth already, and God himself has borne all its fury.
The Bible itself presents a scene in which God is tempted and accused by his own people. It is the incident of Masseh-Meribah that followed the exodus of Israel from Egypt (Ex. 17). God guides the wilderness march to Rephidim, where there is no water. The people strive with Moses in judicial fashion. They are ready to initiate court-martial proceedings to execute Moses as a traitor who has led the nation into a deathtrap. Moses protests that their case is not just against him but against God. The people are accusing God of unfaithfulness to his covenant promise. The word Meribah does not mean merely a controversy. Meribah means a law-case. In Micah 6 the prophet uses the term to describe God’s law-case against Israel as he surnmons the mountains and the foundations of the earth to bear witness to his faithfulness.
God is a righteous and just judge. If the people demand a court hearing, a trial will be held. God tells Moses to pass before the assembled people and to call the elders of the people into session. Moses is to take in his hand the rod of judgment, the rod with which he smote the River of Egypt, turning the Nile to blood. In the Pentateuch, the rod is both the symbol and instrument of the infliction of judgment. A guilty man in a controversy was to be beaten with the rod before the face of the judge (Deut.
But now Moses takes the judicial rod and lifts it to inflict the sentence of judgment. In Isaiah 30 the prophet describes the descent of the rod of God’s wrath upon the Assyrian enemy: For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be dismayed; with his rod will he smite him. And every stroke of the appointed staff, which the Lord shall lay upon him, shall be with the sound of tabret and harps. (Is. 30:31-32)
Dread fell upon Israel as Moses lifted the rod of God. Upon whom would the wrath of the Lord descend? Here is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. God says to Moses, “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock” (Ex. 17:6).
Nowhere else in the Old Testament does God say that he will stand before a man. God is the Judge. Men come to stand before
him. Provision is made for hard judicial cases that can be appealed to the priests, Levites and judge in the place where God will set his name (Deut. 17:8-9).
But here God stands before Moses, the judge with the rod of judgment. God has been accused, and he stands in the prisoner’s dock. God is symbolized by the rock on which Moses stands. In the Pentateuch, Rock is a name for God: “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God, the Rock, his work is perfect” (Deut. 32:3-4). The psalms that speak of Masseh-Meribah call God the Rock (Ps, 95:1, 8; 78:15-17, 35).
God commands Moses to smite the rock. It would be impossible for Moses to smite the Shekinah glory of God. God bears the smiting, and living water flows forth to the people. For this reason John bears witness in his gospel that when the spear was thrust into the side of the crucified Savior there flowed forth blood and water (Jn. 19:34). The Rock in the wilderness was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4) and great was Moses’ sin in striking the Rock a second time (Num. 20:10-13).
The mystery of God’s mercy foreshadowed in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. The measure of God’s love shows the reality of his wrath. Do not tell the Father his wrath is too great when he must direct it against his Beloved Son!
How much does the Father love the Son? The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father before the world was … the Son, the firstborn, of whom God says, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son” (Heb. 1:5) … the Son in whom the Father’s heart delights … the Son who prays, “Father, glorify thy name! ” How much does the Father love the Son at Calvary as he takes the cup and is obedient unto death?
What would God not give for his Son? “For the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (Jn. 3:35). “For God so loved his only begotten Son that he gave the world that he might not perish … ! ” No, that is not John 3:16! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
In giving his Son, God gives himself, and here is the measure of love.
I cannot understand that. I cannot explain that. Can you? I cannot begin to enter into the mystery of the love of God. But I can say this to you. What do you think it cost the Father to abandon the Son? Abraham took his son Isaac out to the mountain, but Abraham did not have to plunge the knife into his son. The promise was “The Lord will provide.” And the Lord did provide. The Father sent the Son, and the Son bore the wrath. And Jesus Christ in the will of the Father hung upon the cross. There upon the cross Jesus Christ cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani“: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). In that act, Jesus Christ endured the lostness, the judgment, the doom, the poured-out wrath, because he came to bear that wrath in the place of man.
I know you have doubts. I know you have fears. I know you are bewildered sometimes. And I know you ask why. But oh, my friend, go to the very depths of your doubts and gather them all up; take all your unsolved problems, all the whys that come out of the anguish of Your heart, whys that grow out of major tragedies, whys when you do not understand. just bring your whys, your questions, to God.
But come there to stay. Come there to watch Jesus Christ. Come there to listen while Jesus Christ the God-man in his human nature cries out, “Why?” Then do not say that the Father’s wrath against sin is too much.
“Who knoweth the power of thine anger?” Moses asks in Psalm 90. We know the answer. Jesus Christ through the power of the Father knew it, because he bore it. We must proclaim that the wrath of God is a reality, for God is just and we are vile sinners. But we proclaim God’s judgment in the message of the gospel. Praise God. We proclaim it in the message of Jesus Christ.
Do not trifle with Calvary. Paul pleads,
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day … when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ. (Rom. 2:4-5, 16)
No, rather, let the solemnity of God’s holy wrath at Calvary open your eyes to the wonder of his love.
Who know not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.8
1 James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), p. 467.
2 Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), p. 308.
3 C. K. Barrett, ed., New Testament Background: Selected Documents (New York: Macmillan, 1957), p. 38.
4 Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit and Three Other Plays (New York: Vintage Books, 1949), p. 47.
5 ibid., p. 45.
6 Henri Blocher, “La doctrine du châtiment. éternel,” Ichthus, 32 (April 1973), p. 8.
7 Günter Rutenborn, The Sign of Jonah (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1960), p. 80.
8 George Herbert, “The Agonie,” in The works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), p. 37.
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- ~ William Edgar Remembers Dr. Clowney
"Ed’s teaching was mind-boggling. No one had ever explained so many issues using what I now know to be biblical theology, the progressive unfolding of redemptive history, culminating is Jesus Christ, the “yea and amen of the promises of God.” A whole group of us from Harvard did come to Westminster, and we never regretted it for a minute. There we discovered that exegesis was controlled by biblical theology, which in turn yielded the good fruits of systematics. We sat under the likes of Paul Woolley, John Murray, E. J. Young. But Edmund Clowney remained a central inspiration. It was he, more than any of the others, who opened the Bible to us. Ironically, in those days, many of the courses on the Pentateuch or the Psalms or Galatians were little more than painstaking refutations of the German critics. We were no doubt still in the era of Westminster’s origins in controversy, called to “demolish strongholds.” But many of us came from outside the Christian faith and did not worry particularly about these guys with funny names like Gunkel or Mowinckle. We needed basic Bible knowledge, and we got it from Ed Clowney’s courses in, of all things, Practical Theology. Whether homiletics, worship, missions, or the church, his sermon-like lectures took us through one era after another, climaxing in Jesus Christ. As he got more and more excited about the structure of revelation, Ed spoke contagiously about the impossibility of God’s extravagant promises. How would he do it? What about Abraham rising up in the morning to sacrifice the only son of the pledge? For a people in exile, how will the very bells on the horses have the Lord’s name inscribed on them, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house be like the sacred bowls before the altar? The answer: “Remnant and renewal! Remnant and"
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